Northwest NEWS

July 27, 1998


Purple Heart legacy


Photo by Oscar Roloff

Carrie and daughters Alyson and Amanda share their favorite photo of "Grandpa Jack" and his European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal of World War II.

   by Carrie Michalka
   I had wanted to meet Oscar Roloff for some time. I felt I already knew him just by reading his articles. It was easy to see that he was very patriotic and had a soft spot for mankind. His writings obviously came from the heart.
   When I learned that one of my friends was Oscar Roloff's neighbor, I asked to be introduced to him. On that same day I was greeted with a warm welcome by Oscar and his wife Elaine.
   I was struck by the resemblances between Oscar and my own father. They both served in World War II, and they were both wonderful story tellers. I knew that I had met just the right person to listen to my father's story and my frustrating search for his Purple Heart.
   Charles M. (Jack) Begley was my father. He gave me a love for the great outdoors and a respect for my country and those who have fought for it. He taught me to value and respect the wisdom of the elderly. My father taught me by his own example what it means to be gracious to others.
   On Oct. 28, 1945 my father, then a private first class in the U.S. Army, was serving in the European Theater of Operations with the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
   It was on the beach head in Anzio, Italy that he was first wounded. German fighter bombers made a low strafing and bombing raid on his company's bivouac area with 20 m.m. cannon and 500 lb. bombs.
   He was wounded again. This time in southern France. A German anti-tank gun disabled my father's tank. Before the second round blew it to pieces, my father and his crew escaped the burning tank though all were injured. It was for this that my father received his Purple Heart. However, the original discharge documents never noted this award, and this meant his grave marker could never bear the Purple Heart insignia.
   Following an honorable discharge and his return home at the end of the war, he asked that the Purple Heart be noted on his original discharge papers. He received no response.
   On March 25, 1989, my father gave me his Purple Heart medal. It was the day that I gave birth to my first daughter. I didn't know if I cried harder over the joy of having my first child or receiving my father's Purple Heart. He told me to wear it with grace and honor. I've only worn it once in the past nine years. I placed it over my heart on the day of my father's funeral. And I did exactly what my father asked of me. I wore it with grace and honor. I knew on that day I would do whatever it took to get those corrections made on my father's original discharge papers.
   Fifty years later and one year before my father died, he wrote to the War Department again requesting that the corrections be made. He never heard back from them. It wasn't until he felt he was closer to life's end that he made another attempt. Again, no response.
   For the past two years I have been working to have corrections made to my father's original discharge papers so I could order his government grave marker with the "Purple Heart" noted on it. It was not something that could be added once the marker was already set, and I needed documentation before the marker could be authorized.
   The amount of correspondence and long distance phone calls over the next two years was overwhelming. But, I felt the legacy of my father's Purple Heart deserved to be recognized.
   In all, it took 53 years before the official corrections were made to his discharge papers. It turned out that the original documents had been destroyed in a fire and then moved to another location. After months of research, my father's signed documents were finally located, and though very damaged, the Purple Heart award was still legible.
   I cannot express the overwhelming emotion that I felt on the day that I received the corrected documents in the mail.
   The Secretary of the Army sent me a beautiful, sealed Purple Heart certificate and all of the other medals that my father had been awarded but never received. I wish I could have shared that moment with my father.
   The marker with the "Purple Heart" is finally in place on my father's grave.
   I know that if my father could, he would graciously thank Oscar Roloff for the time he took to listen to me, as do I.